If you’re a fan of Public Television, maybe you’ve seen some of the eye-opening agribusiness documentaries like “Food Inc.” or “Supersize Me.” Several of these include visits to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia, where cattle graze on pasture, chickens slowly parade across the pasture in their tractors, and hogs amply express “their pigness.”
For Wisconsin Public Television, there are also programs like “Wisconsin Foodie” and “Around the Farm Table,” sharing stories of food, farming, and fun in our state. For the first season of “Around the Farm Table” with Inga Witscher, hostings of film screenings were being held in each county last November. Kevin Schessow of UW Extension contacted me that the program was interested is having a few local farmers present at the event to speak about the local agriculture scene and what they do on their farm.
Held at the Senior Center at the top of Hayward’s Main Street, it was an eager and curious group. In the film, Inga was gathering ingredients for a traditional meal to celebrate the purchase of her dairy farm by visiting area dairy and grain farms, as well as ice fishing with friends and demonstrating artisan bread technique.
It was exciting to get to meet Inga and Joe, her husband and producer, and talk about the story of our homestead farm. Of course, sheep’s milk gelato came up in the conversation, as well as my being a musician—Joe being a guitarist and songwriter as well. “We’ll keep you in mind for next season,” Joe promised. “You guys have such a great story.”
But then, nothing happened. No peep. No inquiry. And then, last month, I was busy serving late lunches at Farmstead Creamery when the phone rang (a not uncommon occurrence).
“Farmstead Creamery, this is Laura.”
“Hey Laura, this is Joe from ‘Around the Farm Table.’ We’re in Hayward right now, how do we find you?”
After a few wrong turns and several more cell phone check-ins, Joe and his father-in-law Rick arrived at the farm. After learning more about our story, touring the farm, and discussing all the different aspects of what we do, they concluded that there would be enough material, easily, for ten episodes…though that wasn’t practical.
“What an absolutely beautiful farm. You guys are doing such an amazing job. Rick and I talked about you all the way back home that evening.”
We set a date for the film shoot in June, which was just concluded yesterday. The sun was shining, the sky a silvery blue specked with dramatic clouds from the oncoming evening storm. We were first joined by a wild edibles expert from parts further north who led foraging scenes in our woods with Inga. For this episode’s story, Inga is camping with Joe and is searching for wild Wisconsin foods for making dinner that evening. After foraging, she becomes lost, and then…
“And then that’s where the harp comes in,” Joe explained as we worked through the outline of the program. “She’s crashing through the woods and she hears this harp music. Crawling out, she finds you playing in the pasture with the sheep and discovers your farm in the middle of the woods.”
So, while Kara and Ann coaxed the ewes closer to the edge of the fence, my duet partner Tom Draughon (on lute) and myself in performance regalia parked by the edge of the field to play the opening verses to the Robert Burns’ piece “Ca’ the Yowes” (call the ewes).
From there, the footage launches into touring the farm, meeting the crew, and learning about gelato and the Creamery. We were all over the farm that day, taking footage of the aquaponics, the dairy plant, and all the different animals. There were also countless retakes of interviews in front of the barn and the Creamery, trying to get in every important key point.
“You guys are so patient,” Joe offered. “One more time, and then we’ve got it. After this, then it will be 300 hours of editing.” We take the scene again, then Rick asks for a different camera angle for shooting the Creamery. “I want to get it just right because it looks like a piece of art.”
“What an amazing farm you have,” Inga glows as we sit down to a chef salad lunch for 11 folk, including sound and camera crew. “We know folks who do the different pieces that you have on your farm, but not all of them together. This is pretty special.”
After all the takes and retakes, footage and photo shooting, entrances and exits, we were feeling pretty exhausted with a gusty storm still on the way. As the crew pulled away down our lane, we had to switch from celebrity farm to hatch battening as the buffeting winds tore branches from trees in our yard, tried to fly off with the chicken tractors, and shook the greenhouse like an autumn leaf. Enough for one day, weather, how about letting us just relax and celebrate our TV debut?
Oh well, farming has a way of keeping you humble.
If you’d like to watch the episode of “Around the Farm Table” that features our farm, it should be released this fall. You can also check out the program at www.aroundthefarmtable.com. And maybe, on the silver screen, we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com